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Bladenboro Moves Forward with Downtown Revitalization

By Blake Proctor

The Town of Bladenboro met Monday, June 29th to decide two items in special session: After calling the meeting to order, Mayor Rufus Duckworth asked for a vote to approve the final year-end budget amendments for this fiscal year, which had already been provided by Town Clerk/Finance Officer Melanie Hester. The vote was unanimous.

And then to the primary reason for the meeting: County Economic Development Director Chuck Heustess came before the Board to revisit the latest concept for revitalizing downtown. He began his presentation with a historical summary of what has been discussed over the last several years.

These ideas have included, first, the demolition of the Fowler-Simmons building on W. Seaboard Street plus the two others next to it. Then the removal of the old optometrist’s building next door to The Pharmacy Shoppe on S. Main St. This latter concept had progressed within Town to the point that Steve Simmons, the building’s owner, had earlier this year deeded the property to the Town for a tax write off, a fact of which Mr. Heustess was unaware until this meeting.

The current concept is being proposed with the core traffic flow for potential downtown business clientele as a major consideration; this traffic flow is along Main Street. Mr. Heustess proposed a plan that would clear the buildings along the west side of S. Main St. from the former Housing Authority building south to W. Railroad St at its intersection with S. Main.

He informed the Commission that the County is willing to place a $350,000 Forgivable Loan on the table to begin construction once the buildings have been deeded to Bladen’s Bloomin’, a private entity, and they have been demolished. He recommended that the $200,000 the Town received for demolishing the three earlier-mentioned buildings be used to remove the buildings along S. Main.

Commissioner Sarah Benson asked if, since the optometry building is almost ready to come down for some $50,000, could the three buildings envisioned in this present scenario be removed for the remaining $150,000? Mr. Heustess opined that he was extremely confident that if any additional funding was required, it could most assuredly come from the GoldenLeaf Foundation, which distributes the State’s tobacco monies.

“This [downtown] project has been in the planning stages for the last four years, and we are now ready to get started,” stated Mr. Heustess, reminding the Board that everything is in place, but that the first step needs to be made by Bladenboro. He opined that the entire project could be completed about this time next year if the Town would approve the concept.

On a motion by Commissioner Benson, with a second by Commissioner Jeff Atkinson, the Board voted unanimously to draft a resolution for the July meeting that will finalize the razing of the optometry shop, with the remaining grant funds allocated to the demolition of the buildings envisioned in this current plan; and, that, if needed, the Town would apply for GoldenLeaf funding to ensure this project comes to a timely realization.

Also sitting in attendance, although not officially on the job until Wednesday, July 1st, was new Town Administrator O’Ryan Lowery, formerly a Town Manager in Pembroke and Clerk/Administrator in Rowland, both in Robeson County.

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